I volunteered quite a bit for a Libertarian Party candidate running for City-County Council of Indianapolis in 2011. His image was clean cut, he had served in the Navy and then in the Army, his voting record was one of defending individual rights from special interest edicts and voting against corporate welfare schemes and fiscally irresponsible legislation. His opponent was a sleazy Republican who had been caught committing fraud, not purchasing new equipment for the local fire department, stealing money from the public treasury to use for his own good, and bragging about legislation that had been passed before he had even been appointed to his office. In canvassing neighborhoods, fellow volunteers and I found out there was a universal disdain for this opponent. We covered over ninety percent of our precincts, quite an achievement for a Libertarian Party campaign. I even did three precincts near my neighborhood single-handedly, and walked fourteen hours over a four day period a few weeks before the election. Based on the amount of signs and the attitudes of the people, we thought we would be able to pull off a victory on Election Day.
Fast-forward to November 8th, the day of the election. After 12 hours of working the polls, I headed off to the results viewing party at the new LPIN headquarters. There was much anticipation of finding out how the day had played out. The results began to come in. The candidate many of us had spent time volunteering for lost soundly, only garnering 24% of the vote. Many of us, especially those who had spent hours canvassing on the ground, did not see how this could be. As results continued to come in, we found out it was a result of party-line voting. My district votes heavily Republican, and when someone in my district votes Republican, most of them vote straight ticket. Part of the reason for this may have been because this was also a mayoral election, thus polarizing the two parties even more intensely, leaving the Libertarian Party somewhat obscured in the minds of the voters. In the whole state of Indiana, three Libertarians were elected, and there were a few candidates who narrowly lost their bids.
The lesson I learned from this experience? Third parties will not be viable until people opt out of voting party line. I almost thought my time had been wasted, but then reflected on the fact that all the work I had done had been experience gained for future campaigns regardless of the party, because political technology is neutral. In this situation, party line voting had effectively destroyed the Libertarian Party’s candidates. It can however work for those who run as libertarian Republicans, provided they win the primaries or run in the primaries unopposed, especially in those areas where the voters have a history of voting straight-ticket Republican, the suburbs and rural areas of Indiana, what my district is a mix of.
That is the way I would like to see it. I have nothing against the Libertarian Party; I will continue to volunteer and help their candidates provided they share my values and have every intention of helping the community I live in. I am a realist, I see that the Libertarian Party cannot be viable until society changes or until people finally see that most Democrats and Republicans are basically the same party, with the exception of a few notable politicians like Congressman Ron Paul, Congressman Justin Amash, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mike Lee, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (at least on civil liberties and foreign policy).
Ask yourself… would the Liberty Movement be as big if Congressman Paul continued to run as a Libertarian after 1988? His views would not have been broadcast as widely. The GOP debates in the 2007-2008 election cycle that turned many on to Paul would have been the same old GOP bickering about what country they were going to invade next, had Paul not participated in those debates. Paul created a unique platform to broadcast his views with those debates, and he continues to do so. I owe it to Congressman Paul for my conversion to libertarian thought. Everyone on Facebook was talking about this Ron Paul character in the Spring of 2009, so I checked out The Revolution: A Manifesto from the library and saw how most of what I had previously believed was wrong. My answer to the question I posed is a most definite no. It is possible to change the Republican Party. The appearance of the Liberty Movement (Campaign for Liberty, Young Americans for Liberty, and Antiwar.com among others) at events such as the Conservative Political Action Conference is a clear indication of this shift in the Republican Party.
I think it is much easier to run within an existing structure, like the Republican Party. People want to complain about how the Republican Party has gone to hell? Well, nothing is stopping them from running. For the GOP to return to its roots, for the GOP to have men like Barry Goldwater and Robert Taft again, it needs an infusion of youth and new ideas. Ron Paul will not be around forever, liberty will need new advocates within the GOP in the 21st century. The resources and volunteer power of the Libertarian Party could be better utilized in running a libertarian Republican in general elections. It is all about exploiting the ground factors and voting history. Our candidate’s opponent was roundly disdained by most of the population of our district, yet he achieved more than a landslide victory. Perhaps he understood party-line voting, something our campaign did not.
Another element of politics that can be exploited at this point in time is the anti-incumbent attitude. To run in the primary against an incumbent who has been in for quite a number of years and run unopposed in that primary comes as a shock to them, as I have learned from a situation here in Indiana. I have a good friend who is running as a Republican for State Senate. When he announced his candidacy, the incumbent who he would have been running against announced she would not run for re-election, causing the establishment Republicans to lose their equilibrium as they had everything planned out with the assumption that no one would be running against her in the primaries.
From my time spent working on that campaign, I gained needed experience that will serve me well as I travel to Iowa to work for the Paul campaign over my Christmas Break and campaigns in the future. Out of my discouragement at our loss, I learned an important lesson about electoral politics and gained a sense of reality and pragmatism needed to succeed in American politics in today’s world. Ideology can convice some people, but what need be learned at a time like this is the voting habits of the people and how they perceive things when they get into the voting booth, not necessarily what they tell you at their door on a chilly morning.